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Upcoming Decision Could Affect Town Skyline For Years To Come

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Church downtown must soon decide which of three options to pursue in renovating their building.

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Wakefield will soon choose from several different options for renovating the spire at the top of their nearly 200-year old building.

The spire of the downtown church was removed in 2008 after years of weathering and even a couple of lightning strikes. A painting on display in the basement showed the Amos Boardman house as it looked in 1813, where the UU congregation of Wakefield first met. The church on Main Street was built in 1839 and then the former steeple - which also once had a clock in it - was erected in 1859.

The congregation of 63 members has already raised about $84,000 in an internal capital campaign. Last week's meeting was intended in part to gauge what level of support exists within the community for assisting with the project.

The first option under consideration would simply remove the rest of the tower from the top of the UU Church at a cost of just over $90,000.

The second option would use a small dome with a smaller cross at the top of the structure where the steeple used to be. This would be done at a cost of about $280,000. This second option would at least leave the option of coming back in future years to restore the steeple. Otherwise, the first option would be a permanent fix that would not allow a steeple to come into the picture later.

Finally, to restore the 40-foot steeple to the way it looked for decades in downtown, it would cost $480,000 using fiberglass and $532,648 using wood - which also happens to be much heavier. All of the previously mentioned prices reportedly include a 15% construction contingency.

Interestingly, one idea floated at last week's meeting was to inquire with telecommunications companies about possibly locating a cell tower in the steeple in order to pay for the project. It was noted at the meeting that the steeple across the town common in the congregational church, not far from Lake Quannapowitt, has a cell tower in it.

Without strong support from the community, the congregation may need to go with the first and most affordable option. Town Administrator Steve Maio, who was also present, said that from his discussions with town residents and others, "there's a lot of support for the project."

The church's capital campaign is expected to run into 2015, with the next phase expected to focus more on seeking support from local businesses, financial institutions, and other such entities. Members have also been exploring what options may be out there in the way of historic preservation grants and other assistance.

The church's bicentennial celebration is also coming up on April 28th, which only adds to the desire to have a plan in place by this spring.

Those interested in making a donation to the UU Church Steeple capital campaign can send it to: UU Church of Wakefield, PO Box 529, Wakefield, MA 01880.

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